Leader of protests against new coronavirus restrictions in NYC is arrested on riot charge

Leader of protests against new coronavirus restrictions in NYC is arrested on riot charge

A leader of protests against new coronavirus restrictions in Brooklyn has been arrested on charges of inciting people to riot and unlawful imprisonment of a journalist who was chased and trapped by a crowd, police said. Heshy Tischler, a City Council candidate and activist in the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Borough Park, was taken into custody Sunday evening in connection with his actions during an October 7 street protest.

Video shows a crowd of men, egged on by Tischler, surrounding, jostling and taunting Jewish Insider journalist Jacob Kornbluh, who has been reporting on resistance to social distancing in the neighborhood. Tischler, who was not wearing a mask, can be seen screaming in Kornbluh’s face. Kornbluh, who is also an Orthodox Jew, said he was struck and kicked during the incident.

We are deeply disturbed by the recent attack on Jewish Insider (@J_Insider) reporter @jacobkornbluh in Brooklyn, New York, and are investigating circumstances around the assault. Reporters should never be physically harmed for doing their jobs. https://t.co/DfpUIaNnfM

“There have been a number of very concerning acts of violence in Borough Park directed at reporters, including @Jacobkornbluh, and others. This conduct and all harassment must stop. My office is reviewing these incidents to ensure the police investigation is thorough and complete,” Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzales tweeted.

Tischler called his arrest a “political stunt” and referred to himself as a “#PoliticalPrisoner” on Twitter. He has said he believed his interactions with Kornbluh were protected by the First Amendment.

In another act of intimidation, several dozen men gathered outside the reporter’s apartment late Sunday to protest Tischler’s arrest.

Large protests erupted in Borough Park last week after Governor Andrew Cuomo announced new restrictions on schools, businesses and houses of worship in areas where coronavirus infection rates have increased. A crowd started a fire in the street after midnight, burning masks and chanting, “Jewish lives matter.” 

Tischler addressed the crowd, calling for “peaceful protests” every day and declaring, “You are my soldiers! We are at war!”

Some of these videos circulating from last night in Borough Park are pretty incredible.

At least when the lockdowns were done by zip code, people understood that, even if imperfect. Now, Orthodox Jews feel their neighborhoods are being singled out. pic.twitter.com/AzkeL3nyw8

The majority of the areas facing lockdowns are home to large Orthodox Jewish populations, and religious leaders have complained of being singled out. The spike in cases coincided with the back-to-back Jewish holidays in late September.

Cuomo said Sunday that the so-called cluster areas contain 2.8% of the state’s population, yet have had 17.6% of all positive confirmed cases reported this past week.

The Democratic governor urged people living in those areas to abide by the restrictions including a ban on large gatherings in synagogues.

Tischler has led some of the opposition, cutting the chains off playgrounds in the spring after they were ordered closed by the state and recently disrupting a news conference by the head of the city’s hospital system.

Local Hasidic leaders slammed Cuomo in an open letter last week, claiming they were not involved in decisions involving lockdowns in their communities.   

Sophie Lewis contributed to this report.

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